Tipperary's Education and Training Board (ETB) Secondary Schools have come in for scrutiny in recent weeks for requiring all students to sit in on religion classes, despite the schools being promoted as 'inter-denominational'.
Minister for Education Richard Bruton is preparing new guidelines for the operation of the “ethos” in state run ETB schools across the State.
Tipperary ETB administers 12 post primary schools. Three are run in partnership with the Catholic church, the others are entirely under the control of the ETB.
In theory, these 'inter-denominational' schools are run for the benefit of all faiths, and none, but new documents have come to light showing that some non-Catholic students are required to attend Catholic religion classes, and forbidden from other activities during these class times. Minister Bruton has said all ETB schools will have to modernise their rules regarding religion, so students are not left feeling left out or treated as 'second class citizens'. Under a Freedom of Information Act obtained by lobby group Atheist Ireland, the documents show that on 11 June 2015, the Chief Executive of Tipperary ETB, Ms Fionuala McGeever, told a school meeting of Principals in Co. Tipperary that “the Christian belief, ethos and characteristic spirit of our schools is Catholic... and this needs to be addressed in all policies". Ms McGeever was referring to those schools which are under the control of the ETB, a secular body.
The documents show that even non-Catholic students must attend two religion classes per week, and not allowed to engage in other activities or studies during these class times.
Students in Tipperary ETB schools can only opt out of Catholic religion classes following a written request to the Principal from their parents. Even so, the students must remain in the class and “may not undertake homework or study in any other subject relevant to the curriculum” so as not to give these students an 'unfair advantage'. Students who opt out of religion are not allowed to wear headphones, meaning they must overhear and be exposed to Catholic teachings which may conflict with their own or their parents beliefs and convictions. The documents state that “no alternative form of supervision will be provided... and The school will not provide another subject for the student as an alternative".
The Department of Education website describes Tipperary’s ETB schools as inter-denominational in ethos.
The Tipperary Star addressed nine questions to Tipperary ETB. The response stated: “Tipperary Education and Training Board (TETB) is inclusive and welcoming of all students. We are currently participating in a review of our characteristic spirit with Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI) along with all other ETB’s. TETB will be guided by the outcome of this process regarding its policy reviews. This review is being conducted in line with changing student and societal needs.”